Running out of gas isn’t an end, it’s a beginning…

One of my favorite experiences on a motorcycle is running out of gas. I know that sounds weird. When you’re out of gas your ride is over. Your day pivots from riding, to problem solving. And that interference in your original plan could initially seem like it’s ruining the ride, or the day, or the trip. I know I’ve felt that. That feeling when you thought the gas station was closer, or you forgot to look at your fuel gauge. Or you don’t have a fuel gauge and lost track of the miles you’ve ridden. The bike starts to putter. You think “uh oh, what’s wrong?” Then you think… “I’m a fuckin idiot.” 

When my wife and I were newly dating we were living in Southern California. We got invited to a weekend in Paso Robles with some friends. My then girlfriend hadn’t ever really spent much time on the back of a motorcycle. I’d brought her around the neighborhood. Maybe out to dinner once or twice, but we had never ridden together for more than an hour or so. So I figured riding the 4ish hours to Paso would be an awesome first trip! 

We left later in the afternoon than I had wanted to and made it to Santa Barbara just before the sun started to set. It always seems to set faster when you don’t want it to. We stopped for gas and to swap sunglasses for night glasses. It was at this point that I realized I had made a mistake that I had made many times before and I’ve made many times since. It was fucking cold. Way colder than expected. And we had about 2 hours left on our ride. 

The point of this story isn’t about a cold ride up the coast. So let’s just leave it at that. It was dark and cold and besides some gas station laughs over a hot cup of coffee, I wouldn’t say it was the most enjoyable ride and definitely not the best intro to longer bike trips for my old lady. 

We ultimately made it, and we had a great weekend. But a fun weekend in Paso Robles isn’t the point of this story either. 

I woke up early Sunday morning and decided to take a look at our options for the ride home. I wanted to make sure the day was great and salvage my old lady’s willingness to go on bike trips with me.

I stumbled upon this place called The Carizzo Plain National Monument. There were a million pictures of wildflowers. Miles and miles of rolling hills and open plains sprinkled with an array of petals in every shape and  color. And it was on the way home. That was the extent of my research.

My trooper of an old lady was onboard. We were excited to get going so we skipped breakfast, hopped on the bike and hit the road.

As we were leaving town I looked at my fuel gauge and we were a little under half a tank. I thought, “the smart thing is to fill up before we’re out of town.” Then I thought, “there’s gotta be a gas station near the National Monument. It’s a National Monument, there’s gotta be stuff around there.”

So we kept going. And honestly, it was one of the most beautiful rides I’ve ever been on. The road was perfectly paved. There were trees growing up and over the road keeping us in the shade. There were lush green pastures with cows and horses grazing. It was perfect. But all the while, I kept glancing down at the fuel gauge that was dropping much quicker than I had hoped. 

As my head continued to dip down, I knew my old lady was picking up on the fact that gas was running low. I shouted back to her that we had plenty of gas and that we’d be fine! And she trusted me. Then the light came on.

There was a town near the entrance to the monument and I knew there’d be gas there. And I knew we had enough gas to get to the town. So I wasn’t worried. Well let me cut to the chase. There wasn’t a gas station in that town. 

We rode by a fire station and there were some guys out front. So I pulled in and asked where the nearest gas station was. 

“About 30 miles back the way you came!”

Well I knew I didn’t have enough gas for that. So I had a couple of options. Stop and call AAA for some gas, or keep riding for as long as we can. There was a smart option and an option that made zero sense. Zero sense won.

We pressed on. We got to the entrance of the Carizzo Plain National Monument. I was expecting a beautifully maintained road with endless flowers on either side. But remember I said I didn’t do any research other than looking at a couple of pictures?

It was a dirt road. And there was not a single flower in sight. There wasn’t anything in sight. The monument was a barren wasteland. It was an endless desert with a dirt road running through it. 

I had no idea how many miles it was to the other side of the monument and to the next town. Optimistically, I told myself it was like 3 or 4. And I figured I had enough gas for that! So in spite of all logic, I was pretty confident we’d be fine to push through and get some gas on the other side.

We made it about 3 minutes of riding in 2nd gear over rocks and dirt.

Out of gas. 

There’s nothing to do but laugh! We weren’t in danger or anything. We were just out of gas! Whatever! 

My old lady was asking what we should do. I told her let’s just hang out for a second and see what happens. So we took our helmets off and sat in the dirt and laughed about how wrong I was about this national monument. 

Not 10 minutes later, we see a cloud of dust in the distance. As it got closer, we see a guy on an adventure bike. The correct bike for this road. He saw us sitting there next to my Harley and stopped. 

We explained to him that we’d run out of gas. He asked if we had any food or water or more importantly, any plans to fix our situation. We said no to every question. 

He kind of laughed as he opened a hard case on the back of his bike. He pulled out a little reserve bottle of gas and tossed it over to me. 

I gave my old lady a look that said, “see, it always works out. We didnt need to call anyone.”

I filled up the bike and offered to give him some cash for his help and his gas and he of course declined the offer. And that’s the beauty of motorcycling but that topic deserves its own post. 

He hit the road and we started to gear up. The gas he had wasn’t much at all, but I’d seen my bike run a long way on a little gas. And again, I figured this was a short trip through the monument. 

The bike fired right up and we continued on our bumpy way. 

We made it maybe 6 minutes.

Out of gas. 

This time was a little less funny. It was desert in every direction and other than our fellow rider who was long gone, we hadn’t seen anyone. 

My old lady again suggested that we call for help and I couldn’t help but agree this time. We were still in good spirits, but I was ready to have a full tank and be on our way. 

We had terrible service but somehow managed to get a call out to AAA. Good news, they said they’d be able to get to us. Bad news it would take about 4 hours. 

Just a little recap. We hadn’t eaten anything. We had no water with us. The sun was now high in the sky and beating down on us. And if I told you we weren’t hung over from the weekend, I’d be lying. 

We were still laughing at our situation but the thought of 4 hours baking in the sun made it a little less funny. 

We had been sitting on the side of the road for about an hour and we were both wishing we had a water bottle with us. That would at least make the wait for AAA a little easier. But we didn’t have anything. 

We decided that if a car were to appear out of the hopeless abyss that was The Carizzo Plain National Monument, we’d flag them down and see if they had any water to spare. 

Another half hour or so went by. It felt 3 times that long. But sure enough, we saw another cloud of dust in the distance. My old lady saw it first and yelled out to me to flag them down. 

As the dust got closer we were able to make out an old pickup truck. I stood up and started waving. The cloud began to settle as the truck slowed and pulled over. 

“Hey man! We’re out of gas and we’ve got help coming, but do you have any water we can have while we wait for AAA?”

Our desert angel smiled at us.

“I’ve got gas!” 

My old lady and I looked at each other, then at the truck and asked, “how much ya got?”

Out of the truck came a Hispanic man with a big smile on his face. He told us he had 5 gallons of premium in his truck bed! 

He walked to the back, pulled out a gas can and we filled up the bike to the brim. Then he walked us to the back of the truck, opened the tailgate and said,

”You guys thirsty? Hungry? Do you want water? Gatorade? Coke? A sandwich?”

He opened up a cooler and our eyes lit up like we were staring at a glowing chest of gold coins. We took a couple of gatorades and thanked him profusely. I offered him all the cash I had in my wallet, and of course he refused to take a dime. 

We were hydrated and now had a full tank of gas. As our friend was getting in the car, I asked him his name. It was Jesus. (you can pronounce that however you want in your head)

He fired up his truck and disappeared under the same cloud of dust he arrived in. 

We threw our helmets on, turned on the bike, and headed out of the desert. Funny enough, we passed the AAA truck on the way out of the monument and I stopped him because I knew he was going to be out there looking for me. I explained to him what happened and offered him some money for his trouble, which he quickly took. Of course the one guy that was out there getting paid to help us had no problem taking some money for his trouble. 

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably ready to read why I love running out of gas, which is in fact the point of this story. 

Like I said before, the initial thought is always, fuck I ran out of gas. Now what? My plans are now changed. And that’s cool, it’s natural to think that way. But is the ride, or the day or the trip over? Nope.

You’re not just going to sit on the side of the road forever. You’re going to do something. It may not be what you initially thought you were going to do, but you’re going to do something! You’ll figure something out. You’ll pivot to a solution. Sometimes it’s as simple as taking a breath and letting help come to you. Sometimes it’s harder. But there’s always a next step. You’re not done, you’re just doing something new. 

I think we run out of gas all the time in our lives. At work, in relationships, doing things we maybe once loved but now not so much. And when that happens, do we never work again? Never love again? Never try something new? Nope. We do all of those things. We pivot from what we were planning on doing, and we’re forced to figure out what we’re going to do next. 

Running out of gas isn’t an end, it’s a beginning. It’s an opportunity. It’s a chance to have an experience we weren’t expecting. 

There will always be an angel in the desert with 5 gallons of premium and a cooler full of water. And as long as we still have a tank, it can always be refilled. The only time we’re truly out of gas is when we give up the hope of being full again. 







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